The metro system Moscow might have had. From the main Archives: The Knorre-Balinsky proposal

September 22

The Moscow Metro opened in 1935. However, the idea of building an underground public transit railway appeared much earlier in the early 20th century. The city’s Main Archives have documents on early proposed metro projects, including one by Yevgeny Knorre and Pyotr Balinsky.

Electric trams were the most popular mode of public transit in the city as the horse-drawn tram became obsolete. Moscow’s development and population growth necessitated a faster and cheaper public transport system that was capable of carrying more passengers. The city authorities were offered several projects for underground and surface railways, the best of which was designed by engineers Yevgeny Knorre and Pyotr Balinsky.

The Main Archives include documents submitted to Moscow Governor General Great Prince Sergei Alexandrovich and then to the municipal authorities for consideration in 1902. In their proposal, Knorre and Balinsky offered a concept to move people in the city quickly and inexpensively: an electric railway system either underground or at surface level.

But concept designers Knorre and Balinsky didn’t want to be limited to just engineers: they wanted the rights to operate the metro as a private business. At first glance their proposal seemed favourable to the city because they would be the investors. The city would not have to spend a kopeck from government coffers, even though some 155 million roubles were required to implement the project. In addition, the engineers agreed to use Russian materials and products only.

Given all this, the authorities would have to transfer city-owned railways to the future joint stock company. The entrepreneurs also claimed the right to use city streets, squares, canals, rivers and public parks free of charge. Actually, this would have meant free alienation of city lands. The engineers proposed operating the metro as a private company for 81 years, after which all its infrastructure was to be transferred to the city.

Balinsky proposed the project, its terms and conditions to the Moscow City Duma on 18 October 1902. They reviewed and discussed the metro project until 1903. In a report of 31 January 1903, held in the city archive, the Moscow City Board and Railway Commission suggested declining the project as financially unprofitable. Given the high profitability of roads, the concession terms was declared too long. In addition, the project would include streets that could have been used by tramways. The latter did appear cheaper and more convenient for city residents.

The Journal of the Special Council on Approving Engineers Balisnky and Knorre’s Proposal to Build Off-Street Railways, dated 7 May 1903, listed other reasons as well. For example, it included a report by engineer Ivan Rerberg, who pointed out the project’s negative effects on the city: the new system would have cluttered Moscow’s narrow streets with noisy elevated railways that blocked buildings and covered the entire width of the streets, and the project made it difficult for pedestrians to cross streets in some locations.

Finally, the proposal was rejected, but it took 30 more years until the city embarked on its own metro project concept.

The Moscow Metro is 85 years old


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